Can You Put Self Tanner on a Tattoo?

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By Emma McNab
October 12, 2022

If you’re as much a fan of self tanner as you are a fan of tattoos, you might have already wondered how the two might work together.

For example, you might be wondering: can you put self tanner on a tattoo? Or, will self tanner make my tattoos darker? And if so, how can you use self tanner without it interfering with your skin ink?

In this article, we’re going to give you the 101 on all things self tanner and tattoos, from application tips to essential guidance on hygiene and safety. So, let’s get started!

Can You Put Self Tanner on a Tattoo?

The short answer? Yes, but only when the tattoo has healed. For safety reasons, you’ll want to wait until your tattoo is fully healed before applying any self tanner or other skincare products to your skin. Don’t forget that a tattoo is basically an open wound, so you’ll need to treat it as such until the area is completely healed. Taking the appropriate aftercare steps will ensure that your new tattoo heals fully.

In general, tattoos can take anything from 3 weeks to 6 months to heal; it all depends on the size and complexity of your ink. Regular SPF application and regular moisturizing can speed along the tattoo healing process. 

Applying self tanner to a tattoo that is still in the healing process could increase your chances of developing a nasty infection; during your healing period, the skin around a fresh tattoo is vulnerable to bacteria and irritation, so using any body care products is out of the question. Additionally, because the ink is so close to the surface at that point, you don’t want to add anything that could alter how the pigment heals.

When Can I Put Self Tanner on a New Tattoo?

Once your tattoo has completely healed, you can apply your self tanner to your skin as usual. While some average-sized tattoos can heal in 4-6 weeks, larger tattoos (or more complex tattoos) might take slightly longer. To ensure that you let your skin fully recover, it’s a good idea to consult with your tattoo artist for a precise timeframe for healing. 

Will Self Tanner Affect My Tattoos?

Applying self tanner to tattooed skin isn’t going to impact the appearance of your tattoos. Put simply, self tanning products only come into contact with the epidermis layer of the skin; while tattoos are placed in the the dermis layer of the skin.  

How Self Tanner Works

To understand the process better, it’s helpful to reflect on how self tanner works. Typically, most self tanning products use the chemical DHA, which, when it interacts with the skin’s amino acids, develops a temporary pigment via the skin’s dead cells. These dead skin cells live on the epidermis layer of the skin, aka the outer layer of the skin.

On the contrary, new tattoos are created using a needle, and tattoo needles go deeper into the skin. When you get a tattoo, the tattoo ink goes directly to the dermis layer, where the color is unable to be pushed through your bloodstream by the body’s white blood cells. Instead, it sits on the epidermis layer of the skin.

Will Self-Tanner Make My Tattoos Darker?

Generally, a self tanner isn’t going to make your tattoos darker, especially if your tattoos are highly pigmented and relatively recent. However, in some cases, you might find that old, slightly faded tattoos take on a slightly darker pigment following self tanner application. 

This is because both the pigmentation from your tattoo and the pigmentation from your self tanner both live on the epidermis layer of the skin; naturally, the tanner makes everything slightly darker. 

How Can I Prevent Self Tanner from Darkening My Tattoos?

If you don’t want your self tanner to darken your tattoos, there are a few steps you can take. 

  1. You can rub off the self tanner from the tattoo area following application. This allows you to get some color without the self tanner completely overshadowing a small or slightly faded tattoo. However, this isn’t a particularly great option for those with larger tattoos; it might also create an uneven finish, which can ruin the uniformity of your tan if your tattoo is on a highly visible part of your body. 
  2. You can use a barrier cream on your tattoo. Barrier creams are used to prevent self tanners staining certain parts of the body. If you want to minimize the impact of your self tanner on your tattoo, apply some barrier cream beforehand to your tattoo.

Can I Get a Tattoo While Wearing Self Tanner?

Generally, this is going to be a question to ask your tattoo artist, but as long as it’s not a fresh application you should be alright. However, you might want to hold off a few days after your tanning application; wearing freshly-applied self tanner while getting a tattoo could potentially risk your chances of infection. This is because the tattoo needle might inadvertently push some of the self tanner into the dermis layer of your skin, which can cause complications and safety risks during the procedure, even when hygiene measures are followed. 

It’s also a waste of money – your tattoo artist is probably going to clean the area (and surrounding area) completely before beginning your tattoo, and it’s likely that some of your tattoo will rub off during the tattoo process itself. To ensure the safest experience, I’d recommend planning your self tan application for after your tattoo appointment and avoid your tattoo area, or do as recommended above and wait until it’s fully healed. This applies whether you’re planning a spray tan or prefer to opt for a sunless tanner.

Is It Safe to Apply Self Tanner to a Tattoo?

So long as the tattoo area is fully healed, there’s no safety or hygiene issues when it comes to applying self tanner. In fact, self tanner is the safest tanning option: it’s much safer to use self tanning products than to go on a tanning bed and expose to your tattoo to harmful UV rays. Not only will do tanning beds damage your skin and pose serious health risks, but UV rays can even make your tattoo fade faster!

The Bottom Line

Once your tattoo area has healed, there’s no reason you can’t apply self tanner. Don’t forget that every tattoo healing process is different: if you don’t feel as if your tattoo has fully healed yet, or if your tattoo looks infected, don’t apply self-tanner and contact your tattoo artist asap!

However, if your tattoo has fully healed, sunless tanning products are the best way to enjoy a golden glow without the risk of exposing yourself to UV rays and comprising the longevity of your body art.

Note: Want to give yourself an even, natural-looking sunless tan without exposing your skin to toxic chemicals, dyes or synthetic fragrances? Get Naru Organics self tanner and try the very first flawless self tan with no nasty ingredients. Learn more now!
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Emma McNab

Emma is a writer with a keen interest in all things skincare, wellness, and beauty.